A Cowboy For All Seasons
June Gable left each of her four granddaughters a handwritten bequest—to spend a season at her beloved farmhouse in Jackson Creek, Oregon, before they sell it. These cousins were once as close as sisters, but time and family betrayals have pushed them apart…
In spring, polished city girl Keira must find her country roots—and reconnect with an old flame. In the summer, tough tomboy JJ needs to tap into her softer side helping a single dad and his daughters. Cheerful dreamer Lila has to help coordinate the town craft fair in autumn, under the stern eye of the handsome cowboy she loved as a girl. And as winter falls, headstrong, independent Bella must learn to ask for help from the one man she believes she can never have.
The four cousins will have to confront secrets from the past, deal with old wounds they’d rather hide, and tangle with their hardheaded cowboys before they can find love, healing and the true meaning of family…
A Cowboy For All Seasons
Keira Long was finally ready to face her ghosts.
That was what she told herself as she climbed out of the car she’d driven down from Seattle, packed full of all her worldly possessions—which told a sad, small tale about her past five years—and faced the house that had stood for over a hundred years and been the only safe space in her life for what felt like much longer than that.
Grandma June’s farmhouse. Keira’s favorite place on earth.
And for the first time in her life, without Grandma June, who they’d lost just over three weeks ago.
Keira had promised herself she wouldn’t cry, so she looked at the old farmhouse instead. It stood stout and settled against the moody March afternoon, no matter its weathered paint and signs of age and care. Keira chose to take that as a sign. She’d left Seattle before dawn and driven all the way down the Interstate, then over the familiar rolling hills on autopilot, skirting her hometown of Jasper Creek, Oregon, and taking the country roads she knew so well.
A wave of sadness washed over her, but she concentrated fiercely on the dogwood tree that stood in front of the house. In a matter of weeks the buds she saw fighting for purchase on its branches would burst into color, a glorious pink that made Keira feel light and happy every time she saw it. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t in bloom yet. It would be.
Keira breathed past the sadness and tried to let it go. That was what the funeral had been for. Grief and ghosts and trying to hold on to the past when it was already gone.
She’d flown down three weeks ago to stand in the pretty little church in town and say her goodbyes to her grandmother. She’d stood in a pew with two of her three cousins, JJ and Lila, and wished that they were all still as close as they’d been when they were kids. She could have used the sort of easy intimacy they’d all taken for granted back then: leaning on each other’s shoulders, crowding together in a closet in Grandma’s house, giggling through a game of sardines. That kind of closeness had seemed far away to her then, wearing stiff black clothes that fit wrong and that she knew she would hate forever and never wear again.
Still, it had been good that they were there, if sad that no one had seen their youngest cousin, Bella, in far too long. Keira was the only child of problematic parents so she’d always viewed her cousins as her sisters. They knew things about her no one else did, or ever would. And at the funeral, no matter how they’d all grown apart, JJ and Lila had been the only members of her family she’d wanted to see—as well as providing an excellent buffer.
There were ghosts Keira hadn’t particularly wanted to face. Worse, there were her parents. Keira had spent the last five years trying her best to get over them as she forged her way through her very own adult life. Wasn’t that the project of any woman in her twenties? It was certainly Keira’s.
And it was a project that a season spent in Grandma June’s beloved old farmhouse could only accelerate.
Keira parked her car where she always had, hating that she was the only one here now. All she could hear was the sound of the wind blustering about over the hills and around the eaves of the house. The air was still cold, holding on to winter and the snowcapped mountains in the distance, but there was a softness in it that Keira chose to think was hope.
She breathed in deep, then let it out slow, imagining that could clean her— clear her— from the inside out.
She was ready to be new. She was ready to take on her grandmother’s challenge and spend her spring here. Each of her cousins—assuming anyone could find Bella—would do the same.
Keira liked the symmetry of it. Four cousins. Four seasons. Four chances to…
Well. Keira didn’t really know what her cousins might get out of their time here. She only knew that for her, it was time to come home. She couldn’t go to any of the houses she’d grown up in because they’d changed hands so quickly, in line with her parents’ roller coaster fortunes. And she certainly wouldn’t use the word home to describe life with her parents. She’d spent as much time as she could with Grandma growing up, had left for college at eighteen, and had never slept under her parents’ roof—assuming they even had a roof this week—again.
Maybe it was better to say that Keira was ready to make her own home, at last. And this farmhouse was the closest thing she’d ever had.
Keira tucked her hands in her jean pockets, glad she’d worn a warmer outer layer to ward off the chill as she started across the cold, muddy ground toward the front porch. She knew this walk, from the crunch of gravel beneath her feet to the creak of the gate in the picket fence that surrounded the house. She knew the uneven plank on the porch that caught at her bare feet every summer. She loved the enduring charm of every inch of the place, a little bit ramshackle and a little bit worn, but always welcoming.
She found the key where it was always hidden under the mat. Grandma June had liked keys that looked like keys, and the one that opened the door looked like a proper antique. There was scrollwork and a compass, and Keira liked the weight of it in her palm.
She fit the key in the lock, jiggling it to get the door open.
Do not cry, she ordered herself as she opened the door to step inside.
Because she was forced to confront the fact that no matter how perfect and welcoming the house looked to her, no matter how familiar it smelled as she stood in the hall, her grandmother wasn’t going to be here.
There was no scent of anything baking in the kitchen, the way there had been every time she’d come to visit. There wasn’t the light Grandma June had brought to the place, even when she wasn’t in the same room. The windows were shut up tight, when Keira knew Grandma June would have opened them all up on a moody spring day like today.
Keira squeezed her eyes shut against a new prick of tears, and could almost feel her grandmother again. As if she was standing there, just around the corner out of sight, waiting for Keira to come in and say hello.
So she did.
“Hi, Grandma June,” Keira said, out loud into the deep stillness. “I’m here.”
She instantly felt foolish, and flushed.
But it was as if a weight had lifted. As if the house had been waiting for a proper greeting, and now Keira’s grief could subside a little.
She set about unpacking her car and moving herself in to her favorite bedroom upstairs, the way she would have any of the summers she’d stayed here. Her parents had always dropped her off as soon as they could reasonably get away with it. One year it had been April, which hardly made it a summer vacation, but neither Keira nor Grandma June had been all that interested in twelve-year-old Keira accompanying her parents to their latest couldn’t-fail, get-rich-quick scheme in Vegas.
Michael and Katy Long had accomplished nothing on that trip, of course. Because all of their schemes ended in pain, tears, and humiliation. Like the year Dad had claimed they were going to go on a big adventure, which involved moving from their trailer into a tent in one of the campgrounds on the outskirts of Jasper Creek. “Adventure” was one way of putting it. “Terrifying” and “scarring” were the words that leaped to Keira’s mind.
Keira had hated every second of the out-of-control roller coaster ride that was her entire childhood. She’d learned early on that the kids around her in their happy, stable houses where things made sense couldn’t understand what she went through. And she was never, ever to tattle. To anyone.
Keira had always been perfectly happy not to talk about her parents, to keep her head down, and to dream about turning eighteen and finally being free.
She’d always preferred it here in this farmhouse, where she knew there was a bed for her and food in the fridge. She might have to do chores, but the reward was feeling like she belonged. Like she was safe. Like the house would be here in the morning no matter what.
When she was done emptying her car and arranging her things the way she liked them, she found herself walking down the hall with its creaky floorboards to Grandma’s room. She sat there on the end of her bed the way she had in those later summers when she was older, too conscious of the kind of future she had before her if she wasn’t careful, and so in love she couldn’t see straight.
She ran her hand over the quilt her grandmother had made by hand, then looked out the windows to where the trees were starting to look as if they might snap out of their winter slumber and make a run at spring. Keira felt much the same.
The end of this bed was where she’d sat and poured her heart out to the only person who she’d known would, if not always understand her, support her. No matter what. The only cousin she’d confided in back then had been JJ, as they were so close in age, but she hadn’t even told JJ all the details—afraid that that would be exactly the sort of “tattling” her father had always warned her against. She’d saved her darkest truths for Grandma June. Sitting here again felt like completing a very long circle.
Grandma June was how Keira had gotten up the nerve to apply for college. Then to actually go, when her parents had only laughed at the notion. They’d pressured Keira to stay in Jasper Creek, marry the man who happened to be a member of the prominent West family who hated her father, and settle down right out of high school despite her scholarship— because it would benefit them. Because her parents were always thinking about themselves. And as for the rest of the small town of Jasper Creek, the undercurrent to every conversation back then had always seemed to be that the daughter of known liar Michael Long certainly couldn’t expect to do better than marrying a West, could she?
Grandma June had shrugged her shoulders and told Keira that she wasn’t aware love was a Black Friday sale, available only one day and gone forever the next.
If it’s love, Grandma said, it will find its way.
And four years later Grandma June had sat next to her and gathered her in a hug when Keira had broken her own heart into pieces because she knew it was the right thing to do— no matter how much it hurt.
"You'd be proud of me," Keira said out loud now, and it was already easier than the first time. It felt perfectly normal to talk to quiet rooms filled with her grandmother’s things. “I saw him at the funeral. And you were right all along. I built it up in my head and I felt some stuff, but it was fine.”
Grandma had always told Keira that there was no need to avoid her past. That pasts had a way of catching up to a person the harder they tried to run. And that Remy West, who had been Keira’s first love—her first everything, from kiss to marriage proposal to heartbreak— was no reason to avoid coming home to Jasper Creek.
And maybe Keira had been using him as an excuse, at first. She’d graduated from college and turned Remy down in the same weekend, and she knew that no one in this town was ever likely to understand that decision.
But she’d done it. And the past five years hadn’t been easy, but they’d been rewarding. She’d carved out a life in Seattle. She had her own savings now. A retirement plan. She had no debt. She had quit her job so she could live in her grandmother’s farmhouse for a whole spring without risking anything.
For a girl who’d been raised by a con-man father and a mother whose entire life was about indulging his every whim and scheme, it was nothing short of a miracle.
Keira pressed her palm against the faded quilt, and let the emotion roll over her. It was still so hard to believe she was never going to hear her grandmother’s voice again. The particular way Grandma June said her name. The magic of her chortle when she was trying not to laugh. The cards she sent on every birthday, without fail, that had Keira smiling the moment she saw the distinctive handwriting on the envelope.
Not to mention her full name. Miss Keira Catharine Long, the envelope always read.
A deep sob clenched her in its fist as it hit her, truly hit her, that this would be the first year that card wouldn’t appear.
Keira stood up with a sigh. She wiped her eyes, happy to see all the photographs on the dresser, right where they belonged, including the one of all four cousins taken that last, sweet summer they’d all been together here. Then she headed back downstairs.
The sun was already heading toward the mountains outside, sending cooler air gusting through the farmhouse as the sky darkened. Keira loved it. She’d picked up a few staples from the big supermarket out on the freeway—the better to avoid the actual town of Jasper Creek and all the people she didn’t want to see—and found herself moving around the kitchen as if it was hers.
This kitchen was more familiar to her than the tiny, efficient apartment she’d lived in for the past five years. She pulled out what Grandma June had called the fancy plates and made herself an indulgent dinner of cheese and crackers, and a big glass of wine. She took it all out onto the front porch, and sat there wrapped in the blanket Grandma June had knitted one winter. She could feel the weather changing, the dampness moving in and what was left of winter rustling around in the fields. The forecast hadn’t said there would be rain for a day or so, but this was rural Oregon where the land did as it pleased.
And the longer she sat there, the deeper she seemed to sink into her own bones.
As if it wasn’t the comfortable old house that was settling behind her, but Keira who was settling back into place at last.
She finished the cheese and the crackers and tipped her head back to watch the stars come out, remembering all the summer nights she’d sat right here on the wide top step wondering what would become of her if she didn’t get away from her parents? What should she do to make sure she could leave at eighteen and never go back?
And above all, what should she—what could she—do about Remy?
Thinking his name didn’t hurt the way it used to, but she’d worked hard to achieve that. So hard she’d almost convinced herself she wouldn’t react to seeing him at all.
Then she’d walked into her grandmother’s funeral, and there he was.
When they were younger, the age gap between them had been only one of the reasons they were a community scandal. But these days, the handful of years seemed like nothing. Remy had looked as if each one of those years had weathered him—but that only made him look better.
Which should have been impossible.
She and Remy had stared at each other, there in the foyer of the church. Keira had planned it all out in her head on the flight down. She’d be mature, obviously. Gracious. Quietly aware of their past without being nostalgic—especially with the whole town looking on, and no doubt muttering about the uppity Long girl who thought she was better than that steady, hardworking West boy who’d so foolishly defied his family for her.
But there had been no need for any of that.
Remy had gazed back at her, unsmiling. The eyes she remembered as hazel streaked with gold had looked dark and distinctly unfriendly. He’d nodded his head, acknowledging her, and she’d been…paralyzed. She hadn’t been able to smile. Hadn’t been able to say anything, and certainly nothing gracious. She hadn’t even been able to offer her own polite nod in return. She’d only stared back at him, frozen, while her stomach flipped over and took its time sinking down into the floor.
She really hadn’t expected it to affect her so much, all these years later. She hadn’t expected him to cause that same wallop she remembered so well. Surely everyone had moved on, she’d told herself on the plane. That was what happened when people broke up. They moved on. They grew and changed. And they left behind… all of that.
Keira hadn’t expected Remy to greet her with a wide smile and a big old hug, the way he would have back in the day, but she hadn’t been prepared for the extent of his, well… She couldn’t really call it coldness. He simply hadn’t been the Remy she knew.
He’d looked like an older, harder man.
And out in the dark, on the front porch of the farmhouse on a spring night that was turning toward downright cold a little too fast, Keira found herself rubbing at her heart as if she could make all those jangly old feelings dissipate.
That was the thing with hard choices. Keira had made hers and she couldn’t regret them. Not when she’d done things she knew she couldn’t—and wouldn’t—have done if she’d stayed here to be with Remy.
But that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
Especially when she was back in Jasper Creek and the road not taken wasn’t theoretical anymore, but looked a whole lot like the dirt road that wound up to the West family ranch in the far hills. She knew, down to the second, how long it would take her to jump in her car and drive out that way, how fast to take the wicked curves that cut through the forest, and—
“That is not helpful information to remember,” she told herself then.
Maybe a little too fiercely.
Keira went back in the house and set about cleaning up after herself the way she knew Grandma June would have expected. She climbed the stairs, testing her weight on the creaky boards that Grandma had called her insurance policy against any amorous teen boys—they’d all groaned in pretend horror at the idea—and found her bed. She considered showering in the weak upstairs shower, but couldn’t face it until she investigated it for any unwelcome spiders in the cold light of day. Instead, she piled the old rusted iron-frame bed high with all the blankets and quilts she could find, and snuggled down deep into the embrace of it, letting the sound of the breeze through the still-bare trees outside lull her to sleep.
And when she woke up again, it was with a jolt as the light snapped on in the small bedroom.
Keira shot straight up in bed, then scrambled back against the iron rails of the headboard as she saw the figure of a man—
But in the next second, she recognized him.
She suspected she would always recognize him. Anytime, anywhere.
She was plastered against the head of the bed, her pulse galloping around inside her. She blinked, trying to make sense of the fact that Remy West—the man who’d cast his shadow over most of her life—was now casting that same shadow here in an upstairs bedroom at Grandma June’s house. At—and Keira had to glance at the clock on her bedside table twice to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating—four-thirteen in the morning.
He was dressed like the cowboy he was. He’d worked his father’s ranch since before he could walk, and now he walked low and loose, like he was not only prepared for any eventuality the land could throw at him, but was more than capable of handling it.
And if she thought he’d looked grim at Grandma June’s funeral, it was worse closer up.
Or better, a sly part of her suggested.
He looked carved from implacable stone and yet that did very little to take away from the fact that Remington Eli West was the most beautiful man Keira had ever seen. When she was a teenager, or any time since.
He was tall and folks were always tempted to call him lanky, but he had too much rangy muscle for that. He was standing in the glare of the overhead light dressed in a cowboy hat, a flannel shirt, jeans, and boots—and he was mouthwatering.
When they were younger, he’d had a focus and intensity that Keira had found as overwhelming as it was thrilling. He’d brought that into everything he did. That boy isn’t dating just to date, Grandma had told Keira at the beginning of it all. He’d been in his early twenties then, and there’d been absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was already a man.
All these years later, there was even less doubt in Keira’s.
“What are you doing here?” she found herself asking, while her heart was still performing calisthenics in her chest.
From the fear and shock, she told herself. That was all.
His eyes glittered with something that looked—and felt—a lot like temper. His jaw might as well have been granite.
“Are you wearing my T-shirt?” he demanded.
Keira was definitely not prepared for his voice. That voice.
Low, raspy, dark, and nothing short of delicious. And she could feel herself responding, the way he’d taught her all those years ago, readying herself, flushing, melting—
She yanked the nearest quilt up to her chin.
“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s just the shirt I sleep in.”
That was a lie. The green and gold duck that had once been bright on the black background was fading now, but she knew it was there. She knew exactly whose T-shirt it was. And she could tell from the way a muscle tensed in that hard jaw of his that Remy did too.
“It’s great to see you again, Remy,” she said, the way she’d practiced before the funeral. Three weeks ago she’d been half-sick with grief. Weak. But having got the first sighting out of the way, there was no need to wallow in it any further. “I mean that, though I think I would mean it more if it weren’t the middle of the night.”
He stared at her for so long she almost started squirming. Almost. She could certainly feel her cheeks get hot.
Remy kept studying her as if she was some kind of science experiment. Possibly one that had gone horribly awry.
“This isn’t the middle of the night,” he said after what felt like a very uncomfortable lifetime. “It’s the beginning of the working day. Why are you still in bed?”
“The working day?”
Keira was slightly more awake now, thanks to the minor heart attack. Her hair was probably matted to the side of her head, which was certainly not how she’d envisioned running into her ex again. She told herself not to be so shallow, but when she rubbed her hands over her face in an attempt to wake herself up, she smoothed her hair down, too.
“I got a letter from your grandmother,” Remy told her shortly. “She told me you were coming to deal with the cattle. Guess what, princess? We deal with the cattle in the middle of the night. Every night.”
Keira managed not to flinch. Remy had sometimes called her princess, back when. He’d called her princess because she wasn’t one. He’d called her princess, with a laugh, as he’d taught her how to handle the herd the way they did on his father’s ranch. He’d called her princess because she was his.
And she didn’t have to know a single thing that had happened to him over the past five years to understand that he was not using the word as an endearment tonight.
“I also got a letter, but it didn’t mention that we would be…” She cleared her throat. “Mine said I was supposed to handle the cows.”
“Yeah? You remember how?”
Keira waved a vague hand. She’d decided to dive straight in to what she was called to do here, the same way she’d jumped into her new life in Seattle—a comparison she thought better of making out loud. “Grandma June always hired hands to help her out as needed. And I’ve been doing a lot of research.”
The flat line of his mouth curved a little, but she was pretty sure it was derision, not amusement. And coming from him, it left her breathless. Hollow.
“Good thing you have that college degree, then. You can read all those books. Or—” Remy jerked his chin toward the door, his dark eyes glittering like he hated her, a possibility Keira really hadn’t allowed herself to consider— “you can get on up out of that bed, come outside, and do some real work for a change. Your choice.”